Prof’s Work in Mali Making Headlines

March 01, 2012 - In the News

University of Guelph food science professor Massimo Marcone just returned from Mali, West Africa, and is sharing his story about the pending food crisis and how he is trying to help.

Marcone was featured on CHCH News Tuesday and CTV News Wednesday. He was also interviewed by Wei Chen, host of CBC Radio's Ontario Morning program. (podcast available here; scroll to March 5).

He was in Mali on a fact-finding mission with World Vision Canada to see if he can lend his expertise. The combination of low rainfall, rising food prices and declining food supplies is taking a severe toll on the region. As a result, 13 million of the poorest people in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad are struggling.

Marcone said the food supply will likely run out in the next seven or eight months. “There are many complicated factors that contribute to this, but the food crisis is imminent.”

He is interested in looking at alternative food sources that can be used during times of food insecurity to provide emergency sources of nutrition. While in Mali, Marcone met with local farmers and with community leaders to discuss potential food options. He identified two underutilized plants that could be used as food sources during emergencies: drumstick tree and the monkey-bread tree (also known as baobab), which produce highly nutritious leaves and fruit.

Marcone brought samples back with him to Guelph. In his lab at U of G he will be looking to see whether these plants, grown under extreme stress in low-water conditions, contain the necessary nutrients to help stave off malnutrition. He'll also examine whether the plants should be grown in larger numbers to serve as potential emergency food sources during future periods of food insecurity.

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